Not letting on
Peter Manson asks why the CPB fails to inform us as to its real attitude to immigration controls
What is the policy of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain in relation to immigration controls? Should all people, including workers, have the right to move, live and work wherever they choose, or should such movement be controlled and curtailed by individual states? The reason I ask is because nowadays the CPB position is never openly declared in the pages of the Star.
The question was brought up last year in an article co-authored by Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, and the POA’s “standing counsel”, John Hendy. The two were uncertain as to their view of the European Union, but gave a reasonable representation of the problems with the EU version of free movement:
... the right of free movement of labour - attractive though it sounds - has been the source of much friction exploited by neofascists across Europe.
The EU, instead of outlawing the undercutting of collectively bargained terms and conditions, has deliberately refused to uphold the primacy of collective bargaining. This has encouraged employers to import migrant labour (skilled and unskilled) to work on lower terms and conditions than local workers, undermined (and, in some cases, destroyed) collective bargaining, fanned the flames of racism and often condemned migrant labour to Victorian levels of poverty.
This is precisely the ‘social dumping’ which it was claimed the social dimension of the EU would prevent.1
However, whereas these two seemed genuinely unsure as to the merits or otherwise of EU membership, and therefore of free movement, the CPB has no such doubts. It is just that, unlike in decades past, today the Morning Star declines to inform us as to its precise views on immigration. For example, its opposition to European regulations on this question is presented in a way which makes it appear that the EU does not actually practise what it preaches. Take, for example, this editorial statement from September 2015, which declared that the “so-called ‘free’ movement of workers” within the EU is in fact “more often economically forced”. Meanwhile, “the attitude to people seeking to enter from outside is quite different” - almost €2 billion is allocated “for control of external borders”.2
In similar vein, a more recent editorial states:
The EU’s commitment, enshrined in the Single European Act, to the free movement of labour doesn’t allow for the free, unregulated movement of people. This is something which regularly wrong-foots many on the left. It’s designed to restrict national collective bargaining agreements and other domestic ‘protectionist’ legislation. It provides capital with the freedom to move jobs.3
How exactly are we on the left supposed to be ‘wrong-footed’? Is the Star saying that workers do notactually have the right to migrate to other EU states? Or is it implying that we are not aware that such free movement applies only internally, within ‘Fortress Europe’? It is true that this right is used by capital to try to undermine pay and working conditions, but does that mean we should oppose not only those attempts, but the right itself? We are not told. The editorial goes on to state:
Stopping employers using immigration to fuel a race to the bottom on wages and conditions has always been, and continues to be, the job of the labour movement. Organising workers in Britain, irrespective of their country of origin, is not just an article of faith we should cling to - it is the only answer.
Quite right. But this still does not tell us whether immigration should be subject to state restrictions. And we are left in the same quandary when we look at another editorial a couple of weeks later, which declares: “The Labour Party should be pointing out how EU treaty provisions for the free movement of labour are there to facilitate superexploitation of migrant workers for profit.” It continues:
EU treaty provisions on government borrowing and debt, state aid for industry, free movement for commodities and public funding of capital investment would obstruct the left and progressive policies of a future Labour government at every turn” (my emphasis).4
I do not think the Star is consciously including the commodity of labour-power here. Rather it is deliberately omitting anything which openly states that its programme for national Keynesianism would also include controls on the movement of labour.
And, while Morning Star editorial comments are in line with liberal and left opinion condemning the attitude of David Cameron’s government to, say, Syrian refugees, it strongly implies that a UK welcome to such migrants must have its limits: “If Britain is still the fifth or sixth biggest economy in the world, it is capable of offering succour to many more refugees than the government has already agreed to accept” (my emphasis).5 In fact, last autumn the paper claimed that “Yvette Cooper’s call for distinguishing asylum-seekers ... and economic migrants is a step forward.”6
In fact the policy of the ‘official’ Communist Party of Great Britain (and, after it, the CPB) has been, and remains, one of ‘non-racist immigration controls’. Here I am grateful to Dr Evan Smith and his website, Hatful of History, for having collated the statements of the CPGB on this question since the early 1960s.7 For instance, Evans quotes the Communist Party weekly, Comment, which in 1963 stated that the previous year’s Commonwealth Immigrants Act must be opposed, because it was “not an act to control immigration in general”, but constituted “colour discrimination in immigration”.8
This CPGB policy of non-racist (or, to use the terminology of the time, ‘non-racialist’) border controls was most clearly laid down in a 1965 statement, which declared:
Every government, whatever its character, and whatever the social system, will naturally make regulations concerning immigration and emigration. This is an understandable exercise of its power by any sovereign government. The Communist Party has never stood for general unrestricted immigration, but has always opposed racialism and racial discrimination in Britain.9
In the same year a CPGB pamphlet informed its readers that the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act was “not an act introduced for normal immigration purposes, but designed to introduce an element of racial discrimination into the system of immigration”.10
What struck me about this was its similarity to the position of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, as can be seen from the relevant section of its 2013 perspectives document, which the Hatful of History site helpfully reproduced:
Of course, we have to stand in defence of the most oppressed sections of the working class, including migrant workers and other immigrants. We staunchly oppose racism. We defend the right to asylum and argue for the end of repressive measures like detention centres.
At the same time, given the outlook of the majority of the working class, we cannot put forward a bald slogan of ‘open borders’ or ‘no immigration controls’, which would be a barrier to convincing workers of a socialist programme, both on immigration and other issues. Such a demand would alienate the vast majority of the working class, including many more long-standing immigrants, who would see it as a threat to jobs, wages and living conditions ….
We have to put forward a programme which unites the working class in dealing with the consequences of immigration.11
This is, of course, pure opportunism: while SPEW comrades may believe in open borders (perhaps ‘may’ is now the operative word), the working class is far too backward to agree with them - that is the clear implication. In reality SPEW stands four-square behind the ‘official’ CPGB: what matters is “unity”, and we just have to face facts - unity is only possible on the basis of ‘common-sense’ (ie, rightwing) ideas.
A couple of years after this perspectives document was published, SPEW deputy general secretary Hannah Sell showed that she was well acquainted with both its content and terminology. Speaking to the January 24 2015 conference of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, comrade Sell defended the proposal to include in Tusc’s electoral programme opposition only to “racist” immigration controls: “We can’t just make the bald demand” for no controls at all, she said. That was not the way to win support amongst workers.
Comrade Sell published an article in December last year outlining SPEW’s position in relation to the current crisis, entitled ‘Solidarity with refugees - defend the right to asylum’. The words of the headline - like those in the article - were carefully chosen: SPEW’s “solidarity” is with “refugees”, as opposed to migrants, and it defends the right to “asylum”, not migration.
True, like the ‘official’ CPGB, SPEW claims to believe that in the future everyone will be able to live wherever they choose:
A socialist society would harness the wealth, science and technique created by capitalism in order to meet the needs of the majority worldwide. Only on that basis would it be possible to have a world where people are free to move if they wish to, but are not forced to do so by the nightmare conditions they face at home.
In the meantime, however, comrade Sell clearly implies that only ‘genuine’ refugees should have the right to migrate. And she proposes a better way of rooting out the impostors:
Control of decisions whether to grant asylum cannot be left in the hands of this callous government. We demand that elected committees of ordinary working people, including representatives of migrants’ organisations, have the right to review asylum cases and grant asylum.12
Yes, she really is proposing that “ordinary working people” should take responsibility for turning workers away from where they choose to live.
But that is no real surprise. You see, SPEW, like the CPB, is part of the mainstream consensus contending that immigration is a problem and that it must be ‘controlled’. This consensus would have you believe that people should have no right to live, settle and work anywhere on this planet; that, far from the whole world belonging to all of its people, it must remain divided up; that each nationality must protect its ‘own’ patch at the expense of outsiders.
However, for communists, for whom the common interest of the international proletariat is an absolute principle, this consensus is poison. We stand for genuine free movement. The world belongs to all its people.
1 . Morning Star August 22 2015.
2 . Morning Star September 14 2015.
3 . Morning Star February 26 2016.
4 . Morning Star March 7 2016.
5 . Morning Star March 8 2016.
6 . Morning Star September 2 2015.
7 . http://hatfulofhistory.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/the-british-left-and-immigration-controls.
8 . Comment November 16 1963.
9 . CPGB, ‘Draft statement on Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962’, 1965.
10 . H Bourne Racialism London 1965.
11 . ‘British perspectives, 2013’: www.socialistparty.org.uk/partydoc/British_Perspectives_2013:_a_Socialist_Party_congress_document/16413.
12 . www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/21365/08-09-2015/solidarity-with-refugees-defend-the-right-to-asylum.